I was given an early Christmas present the other day. But to explain the magic of it all I will have to take you back nearly two years to an icy January in the town of Big Lake Alaska. I was standing in a strange man’s driveway walking slow circles around a Ford Focus I was interested in buying off of Craigslist. The owner was sheepishly explaining to me why I couldn’t take the car for a test drive. “You see.” He rubbed the back of his neck nervously. “It’s on summer tires that have been worn completely bald.” I bent down to examine one of them and struggled to locate the tread. “I’m afraid you wouldn’t make it out of the driveway with those things.” He motioned over his shoulder to his long winding driveway covered in polished glass.
We were both quiet and I pretended to wiggle the bumper like I knew something about cars. “So, I can’t get it out of the driveway for a test drive, but you’re willing to let me buy it and drive it home?” I flicked the windshield and then sniffed my finger. I had no clue what I was doing.
He squirmed. “Yeah. Look, I’ll tell you what.” He said finally. “I’ll throw in a set of brand new winter tires with it. They have never been used yet. I’ll just toss them in the trunk and you can take it straight to the tire shop.”
I was skeptical. I looked the man up and down. Then I turned and examined my reflection in the chrome accents. My eyes drifted up to the moon roof. I had never owned a car with a moon roof before. “Alright, you have a deal.” I shook the man’s hand.
The drive home that night was frightening. I crawled down the highway at no more than 20 mph, and the following morning I took my car directly to the tire shop. “The new winter tires are in the trunk.” I told them and dropped off my keys.
That afternoon I received a call. I could hear people laughing in the background. “Hello, is this Mr.Smith?” More laughing, *sshh, he’s on the phone* “Excuse me Mr.Smith, but I’m afraid there is a problem with the tires you gave us to put on your car.”
As it turns out the tires I had received were for a full sized truck. They were comically over-sized. Had I stood them up next to my car I would have realized that they were taller than the wheel wells. What I had asked the shop to do was convert my Focus into a monster truck. I laughed over the phone along with the man at the shop the whole time casually doodling pictures of his store burning down, and sketching a picture of the man that sold me my car being eaten by an alligator. Ultimately I shrugged it off and sunk several hundred dollars more into my new car just to save myself from taking it out on the road again on its old set of tires.
I told myself it was all okay. The tires I had would offset the cost. They really were in fairly good condition, surely I could sell them for something. They were even bigger tires, maybe I could actually make a profit off of the difference.
This was not the case. As bad as I am at buying cars, I’m apparently even worse at selling tires. I took detailed photos, researched for weeks and wrote the most amazing Craigslist ad for winter tires ever. When I finally completed my masterpiece of a Craigslist listing it was already spring. No one was interested in winter tires. Then it was halfway through the following winter before I even remembered to repost them again.
Once a lady came to look at the tires. She was very happy about what she saw. They were just what she wanted. I had cash in my back pocket, and three tires were in the back of her SUV. But as I was lifting the last tire into her trunk I noticed something strange. “Wait a second.” I told her as she walked around to her driver’s door. “I think this is chipped.” I looked closer at the inside seal of the tire. “It is… And this one here is worse.” I showed her. “Wow. The inside rims are cracked right down to metal. I’ve never seen that before.” It was really fascinating. I then noticed that the woman was just standing in my driveway watching at me.
“So, what does that mean?” She asked.
I hesitated, mentally focusing on the wad of cash in my back pocket. “Oh. I don’t know actually. But it probably means these tires are useless.” I handed her money back and rolled the tires up my driveway to the side of my house. A little bit of research confirmed my suspicion. I had a set of four gigantic useless tires.
I spent the next year trying to decide how to get rid of them. They became a blight to my life. Four black spots hanging in the back of my mind. A monument to my ignorance. I could see them as soon as I turned down my street standing like a black monolith against the wall of my garage. They mocked me every day when I came home from work. I could not escape them.
I would lie awake at night as grown men often do and think, “Maybe I’m an okay person. You know? Maybe I’m not a complete loser that doesn’t do anything right after all.” And then I would remember. “Oh, but what about the tires? Yeah. The tires are proof, James. The tires show that you really are a complete moron. The tires don’t lie.” I would close my eyes and dream that I was being chased by four massive winter tires. They blocked out the sun. Right as they came down on my head I would wake up screaming.
Then, one Saturday a few weeks ago I loaded up the girls and took them to a birthday party across town. I kissed my wife goodbye and we waved to her happily as I pulled my Ford Focus out of the driveway onto the winter streets. About two hours later Andrea received the visit at her front door. She glanced out the front window when she heard the knock and saw a police car sitting in the drive way. Growing faint with fear, she opened the front door and was met with the dreaded sight. A uniformed officer was standing in our doorway. “Ma’am.” He said politely, holding his hat in front of him. “I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.”
My wife leaned against the wall holding our little boy and braced herself for what was to come. “We received a call from your neighbor this afternoon. He witnessed some teenagers in a Dodge Neon stop in front of your house. I’m afraid they stole the stack of tires you had sitting in your side yard.”
Andrea took a breath. “Excuse me?”
“They took your tires ma’am. They loaded two of them in the back of their car, and then came back and took the other two later. I’m very sorry.”
“Is there any possibility of us ever getting them back?”
“I’m afraid not.” The man said, unaware that this promise was simply the bow on top of the best gift anyone could have possibly given me this season. I was once again a whole man. A man without guilt. A man without failure. Now some other loser is a failure. Some punk kid somewhere has a stack of tires sitting next to his garage and he is lying in bed tonight, staring up at the glowing sticker stars and considering the curse he has inherited. Maybe he will even consider turning himself in.
Someday soon I will no doubt be called to the police station and brought into a booth. A group of uniformed officers will roll in a series of tires. “Can you identify which set of winter tires are yours, sir?” They will ask. And I will see them there. With their wide round mouths smiling at me in that way of theirs that I know so well. And with a glint in my eye I will say, “No, officer. I don’t recognize any of these.”